Recurrent suicidal ideation in young adults

Erika N. Dugas, Nancy C. Low, Erin K. O'Loughlin, Jennifer L. O'Loughlin


OBJECTIVES: Recurrent suicidal ideation (SI) may be linked to an increased risk of making suicide plans and suicide attempts. The objectives were to describe the frequency of SI recurrence in a population-based sample of young adults, and to compare mental health diagnoses, substance use, use of health services and medication use among those with and without recurrent SI.

METHODS: Data were collected from 785 participants at age 20 years and again at age 24. Chi-square tests were used to compare participants with and without recurrent SI.

RESULTS: Of 56 participants who reported SI at age 20, 32% reported SI four years later. Thirty-nine percent of participants with recurrent SI reported poor mental health compared to 8% of participants who never reported SI; 11% (vs. 4%) had sought professional help, 44% (vs. 8%) had been diagnosed with a mood and/or anxiety disorder, and 22% (vs. 2%) had taken medication for a mental health problem. Past-year substance use was higher among those with recurrent SI than among those with no SI: 67% vs. 42% smoked cigarettes, 56% vs. 39% used other tobacco products, 89% vs. 74% binge drank, 56% vs. 42% used marijuana and 33% vs. 17% reported using illicit drugs.

CONCLUSION: One third of young adults with a history of SI reported SI four years later. Because SI can recur, clinicians should monitor young adults with a history of SI, assess their substance use and mood/anxiety disorders and if needed, refer them for psychological or psychiatric care.


Longitudinal studies; suicidal ideation; young adult

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